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Food and Beverage Industry Warmly Welcomes PWDs into the Workforce

Food and Beverage Industry Warmly Welcomes PWDs into the Workforce

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” This quote by Benjamin Franklin resonates well with those who are faced with challenges yet managed to overcome them through the sheer persistence and determination they have within themselves.

No community demonstrates this better than persons with disabilities (PWDs) especially in challenging times like this, and with the country battling an economic downturn.

The food and beverage industry are one of the many sectors to have been severely impacted when the pandemic first hit, with numerous lockdowns causing a business slowdown. However, amidst all the uncertainties, there is resilience in the face of adversity.

Let’s look at how PWDs have managed to overcome their obstacles, and are actively involved in the workforce, particularly in the food and beverage industry.

1) Sign of the Times

Starbucks Signing Store - A Starbucks store in Bangsar Village 2 which seeks to empower the deaf and the hard of hearing in employment.

In 2019, Rina Siew, the Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei revealed that Starbucks has been employing the hearing impaired even before the concept of Signing Store was considered, but there were obstacles with working with the ‘deaf or hard of hearing’, due to the lack of experience in training them. Therefore, they were initially given easier and less complex tasks to start with.

However, when some of the hearing-impaired Starbucks employees
expressed their dreams of becoming managers, Starbucks Malaysia decided to provide a more inclusive platform where they could thrive and provide empowerment to those who are ‘deaf and hard of hearing.’

At a store run by the hearing impaired, the method to order a drink is a little
different, whereby customers mark and place the menu card, handing it over to the barista or “hearing impaired partners.” The baristas will then proceed to make the order and provide the customer with a given number on the receipt, and the number will then be displayed on a screen, telling customers to collect their orders when it is ready.

Despite the difference in operations and communication methods, public
response has been extremely positive as the overall Customer Voice (CV) survey held in the first month of the store’s opening indicated an increase of 31.5%. It is very touching to see communities coming together and producing initiatives to include PWDs in their workforce, providing them training and for highlighting the importance of representation and belonging in the workplace, thereby creating an inclusive society overall.


2) Hard Times Call for Strong People

Tender Hearts Café was conceptualised in September 2016. Sharon Lee, a breast cancer survivor, and mother of a girl with special needs, decided to open a café, with the aim of giving those with special needs a chance of employment, and providing them training and a safe workplace environment.

Although there is a pre-conceived notion that those with special needs may have a disorder, that did not stop the staff from working diligently and showing great enthusiasm while working on the task at hand.

When the café first started, the crew only consisted of 3 people but as of now, there are 17 special needs folks employed, whom Lee treats with respect as a mother would her child. The employees are made up of individuals with special needs such as ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Down Syndrome, or autism.

When asked if local businesses ought to be more open to hiring individuals with special needs, she agreed, saying, “They can do it. Give them a chance and they can do it” and added, “These kids… you really must be patient with them. They tend to forget things. They will make the same mistakes over and over again. And sometimes, when they are under stress, they go blank. You cannot expect them to work like a normal person.”

The business has now also ventured into making handicraft items like painting on canvas bags, stones as paper weights, glass jars and tea light holders for bazaars.


In conclusion, these are only a few examples of the various businesses that are reaching out and employing PWDs. Their contributions in making a more inclusive and loving society cannot be overstated. It is hoped that other similar businesses would follow in their footsteps in making us a more inclusive nation, where no one is left behind.


Image Sources: Vulcanpost & Free Malaysia Today